05 Feb 2024

Should National Sickie Day be a concern?

Since 2011, the first Monday of February has earned the infamous title “National Sickie Day,” supposedly marking the day when staff absences peak compared to the rest of the year. The causes behind this designated day of increased sickness are diverse, primarily attributed to a mix of seasonal sniffles, adverse weather conditions, and heightened levels of anxiety and depression.

Another potential element contributing to this phenomenon is the advent of the first payday post-Christmas, enticing individuals to revel over the weekend. This often results in a lingering hangover that extends well into Monday.

Considering this, should employers brace themselves for widespread absenteeism and a subsequent decline in productivity this imminent Monday? Alternatively, is National Sickie Day something that can be dismissed, or should it concern employers?

How often are employees taking sickness absence?

Instantprint, an online printing specialist, conducted a survey, encompassing data from 2020 and 2021, and found 9% of Brits confess to regularly taking sick leave without being unwell. If these individuals chose to observe National Sickie Day, it could result in over 3.6 million workers being absent on February 5th.

The survey further reveals that the average number of sick days taken by UK employees is four out of 256 possible working days. This represents a significant shift from the prior survey, which indicated that UK employees averaged 2.6 sick days each in 2019.

Additionally, a study by MetLife highlights that 32% of workers would feel a sense of guilt knowing that their colleagues might have to shoulder extra work if they called in sick. Interestingly, Monday emerged as the most popular day for workers to take sick leave, with Friday following closely behind. The research also indicates that employees in Advertising/Media (67%), Banking (61%), and Electricians (65%) are potentially the most inclined to call in sick, even when they are in good health.

Statistics from the Office for National Statistics indicate that only 8% of recorded sick days are attributed to mental health problems. In contrast, independent research conducted by Mynurva, an online video counselling service, reveals that 43% of UK employees have taken leave due to mental health issues but chose not to disclose this information to their employers.

Here are some top tips on how to manage employee absences with Activ People HR:

Intermittent sickness absences can indeed pose challenges and are frequently hard to address. Here are our key recommendations for managing such situations, whether they arise after National Sickie Day or at other times:

  • Conduct return-to-work interviews: these interviews offer employees a designated, secure environment to discuss underlying health issues, allowing managers to pinpoint areas of concern early on.
  • Establish clear policies and procedures: evaluate your existing policies addressing sickness absence—are they explicit and uniform? Are employees and managers well-versed in the necessary steps for reporting or managing sickness absence? Utilising the right HR Software, such as Activ People HR, can be crucial for storing policy documents, ensuring all staff are able to access these when necessary.
  • Keep track of and document absences: this practice ensures a transparent and comprehensive overview of sickness rates and patterns. The insights gained can help identify employees facing health challenges who may require support, as well as those attempting to exploit the system.
  • Maintain consistency: consistency is crucial for fair treatment of employees, but it’s important to remember…
  • …Make reasonable adjustments if necessary: while consistency is vital, equality legislation mandates businesses to adapt processes for individuals with disabilities. For instance, adjustments to the sickness absence procedure might be needed for those with higher-than-average intermittent absence, or modifications may be necessary in how an employee reports their absence.
  • Ensure fairness: while it’s appropriate to investigate concerns about the timing and frequency of sick days, refrain from hastily taking disciplinary action based solely on one suspiciously timed day off.
  • Explore flexible working options: Employers offering flexible working options often report lower sickness absence rates. This may be because employees are more likely to work when well but unable to commute. However, employers should always encourage unwell employees to prioritize their health and take time off rather than pushing through.
  • Consider the employee’s circumstances: is the employee a caregiver or do they have children with special needs? These factors could impact their health, requiring accommodations to prevent discrimination related to their association with a disabled person.
  • Prioritise health and wellbeing: there is a clear correlation between employee wellbeing and attendance. Employers can support wellbeing by arranging flu jabs, providing mental health resources, and subsidising health and fitness programs.
  • Foster a healthy work/life balance: encourage employees to take their annual leave, disconnect after working hours, and take breaks during the day. Be attentive to signs of burnout and take proactive steps to identify and support employees at risk.

Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director at Activ People HR says: “I want to draw attention to a significant issue: the potential consequences of frequent employee sick leave. It’s essential to recognise that avoiding work might signal more profound challenges, such as stress, burnout, or disengagement – all of which are concerning for employers and can adversely impact an individual’s overall well-being.

From my perspective, managers need to dig deeper into the reasons behind sick leave, whether it stems from health issues or dissatisfaction with the job. Regardless of the origin, I believe there are positive steps that can be taken to address absenteeism. Activ People HR can play a crucial role in empowering businesses by facilitating effective communication via return-to-work documents and connection with employees. This, in turn, can help reduce absenteeism and create a healthier work environment.”